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Archive for May, 2013

I’m only days back from retreat and I’m away again over the weekend to preside a wedding out-of-town, in my former home town. I’m struggling right now because I will be staying at the house where I spent a good deal of my formative years. This will likely be one of the last times I spend time at the house because it will likely be up for sale in the not too distant future.

In the past few days I’ve felt like I’m stuck in some sort of melancholy limbo…from first thing Friday morning until now…

A parishioner died.
I presided a wedding.
I presided a Celebration of Life.
I’m preparing to preside another wedding.
The date has been booked for the interment of ashes for another parishioner. The date chosen is the first anniversary of my dad’s death.
I’m putting together a collage frame for my Mam with pictures of Dad, me, my husband, daughter and dogs.
It’s overcast and humid, while feeling chilly at the same time.

I think there are too many things happening at the same time. I’m feeling like I’m changing gears without pressing the clutch. And NOTHING good ever comes from that.

I was hoping for a quiet night tonight, but instead we are having dinner at my in-laws to celebrate my Mother-in-law’s birthday.

So, I need to stop feeling sorry for myself, go finish my chores and get on with the day.

I don’t like being stuck in melancholy limbo. I hope I don’t have to wait here very long.

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I was away last week for five days. I left on Sunday, by train, to the eastern part of the province in which I live. I went to visit a good friend, colleague and mentor. The night I arrived we sat up, drinking tea and chatting, until the wee small hours of the morning. The next day we took a tour to the city where her daughter now lives and then continued driving to reconnect with a mutual friend who lives a couple of hours away. It was wonderful.

I spent a lot of time in silence, in prayer, in meditation. As the days were passing I kept thinking how I didn’t want the time to end, how I wanted to stay away, on retreat for just a little longer.

Reality came crashing back in the early hours of Friday morning when I received a call from a parishioner that her husband had passed away. We had been waiting for this, but it was still a shock and meant there was a great amount to do. On the train ride home I made countless phone calls and emails arranging and organising. There wasn’t much time to fully emerge from retreat time.

It was more like jumping in to the deep end of the pool. Friday night I had a wedding rehearsal which went very well, but took longer than anticipated. When I got home I tried to pull my thoughts in semblance for Sunday’s homily. But nothing has been forthcoming.

The wedding is Saturday night and then I’ll be stopping by a friend’s house for a quick chat and a cup of tea. Then it will be home and hopefully an early night to bed.

While I was away, I felt calm and relaxed, and yet now, not every 24 hours later, I’m back to the frenetic pace that led me to need the retreat in the first place.

Oh well. Now I need to plot out some time for vacation. And likely go away from here, by myself, to simply be away. Only time will tell.

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There’s something I’ve been needing to get off my chest for awhile now. Labels. I don’t like them.

Now, please understand, I’m not talking about tape labels or file folder labels. I LOVE them. They help me organise my world and I like that very much. But as far as society’s labels…I don’t like them at all.

Some of the labels that society pins on me. Hetersexual, straight, female, human, Christian, Anglican, middle-aged, vision impaired, hearing impaired, mentally ill, food addict, religious, spiritual, overweight, fat, outspoken, opinionated, passionate, down-to-earth, etc.

Some of the labels I understand and have even attached them to myself. There is one label that makes me absolutely crazy. Straight. What on earth does that mean? If you’re not straight you’re crooked? If you’re not straight you’re wavy? Hair is straight, sexuality is not. I slightly more comfortable with heterosexual. Because I am attracted to the opposite gender, although I can truly appreciate a beautiful female.

I am an ally of the “not straight” movement. I have transgender friends, homosexual friends, lesbian friends, queer friends, two-spirited friends, gay friends. And what do each of these friends call me? They call me by name. Not a label. What do I call them? I call them by their name. Now, in the case of a transgender friend, I will usually ask their preferred name and pronoun if I’m not sure. And every single time, this request has been received graciously and lovingly.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t care what anyone does in the privacy of their bedroom, as long as both are adults, consentual and nobody gets hurt. We, as a society, spend far too much time talking about sex, and not nearly enough time engaging in it. Those of us who chose to do so. Not everyone wants to have a sexual relationship, and that, too, is a private matter that should not be open to discussion or criticism.

A late prime minister of Canada one said “the government has no business in the bedrooms of the nation”. I’m thinking its time we reminded the authorities of that. And, occasionally, each other.

I’m certain I will blog more about this at a later time, but for now, I needed to get this off my chest.

Love who you are, and share that love, with whomever you choose, however you choose. Don’t label or demean what you don’t understand. Live by the golden rule. And if you still find it necessary to slap a label on a perfect stranger…get over your bad self.

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There is always “one more thing” to do. There is always one more phone call to make. The work is never done. These are all things I know intellectually and yet, emotionally, I feel terrible if I don’t finish my “to do” list.

Recently I’ve been very run down and got quite sick. Nothing too serious, but a terrible cold, that started in my throat, moved to my sinuses and is now settling in my chest. Bleh. I don’t like being sick. I don’t look forward to days when I can stay in bed and sleep. And yet, that’s about all I’ve been good for most of this week.

I have a parishioner who is beginning the journey to the next life. His wife is now staying at this bedside twenty-four hours a day. Another parishioner was admitted to hospital yesterday with congestive heart failure. My instinct is to drop what I’m doing and go to be with them. But the reality is that, with this cold, I will be doing more harm than good. I’m also facing a day filled with appointments to get me ready to go on retreat on Sunday evening, for five days.

I’m anxious that something may happen to one or both of these parishioners. T may die while I am away. S may need surgery while I am away. And yet, intellectually, I know that there is always “one more thing” to do. This morning I was able to get a phone number for S’s room in hospital, so I can call her at a civilised hour and chat with her. Provide her some comfort over the phone.

I will call T’s wife on her cell phone and offer comfort in that way. I may not be there in person, but I can certainly be there in spirit. And if T should die while I’m away, we will figure something out. It is not selfish to have this time away. If I don’t have this time away I will get very sick and not be able to help anyone with anything.

One of the hardest lessons for me is learning that self care is necessary. It’s not selfish, or self-serving. It is warranted, deserved, and necessary.

I’m going to make a couple of phone calls, offer words of support, and then head out on my day.

It will be enough. It will be good enough. And most importantly, it’s NOT about me.

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The past couple of months have been absolutely frantic. There has been good and there has been bad and there has been me, rushing from one event to another, hoping I’ve remembered everything I need. I don’t like to live this way, I don’t like to work this way and for some strange reason, I was beginning to believe that this was how it was supposed to be.

Time seems to be getting shorter, the world seems to be moving faster, and I’m getting less and less accomplished. Last weekend two of my loveliest friends got married in a ceremony that was simple, beautiful, and absolutely them. I had the joy of being in the choir and in the congregation, and it was a blessing to watch these two beautiful people, who have been through so much in their lives, make a lifelong commitment to each other before G-d, their families, their families-of-choice, and their friends.

A few days before they got married I started with a very sore throat. So I took things slower and drank more fluids. By the day of the wedding I was in full-blown chest cold and not feeling so great at all. Attended the service, being careful not to touch anybody, went to the reception dinner and again, careful not to touch anybody and feeling absolutely lousy. So on Sunday I made a decision not to share the peace. I prepared communion and asked my server to distribute it.

I came home and sent out emails cancelling appointments and meetings, so I could concentrate on getting better. Monday I drove my Mam back to her retirement village which is 3 hours away by car. A six-hour drive wiped me out and I was fit for nothing Monday night. Thankfully Tuesday was cancelled as far as business and work went. And yet, there’s still my phone which pings, chirps and hiccups when there’s activity.

The rest of this week I’ll be going slowly. I had debated about rescheduling on my day off, but decided I need to honour my day off. So I am. And I’m not feeling guilty about it.

My eating patterns are way off right now. I’m consuming too much caffeine and not enough water right now. But eventually I’ll get back to where I should be. Right now it’s about survival and getting better. The rest can wait.

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Lately in the parish and community there have been several significant losses. It seems I’m spending more time with the grieving then any other group. What I’ve learned with time is that there is nothing useful to say to someone who is experiencing a great loss.

There are, however, many things that are NOT helpful when in crisis or grieving. This hit home with me after my dad died. Every one of these phrases was said to me. And they all made me angry. So here they are, in no particular order…

I know how you feel.
Been there, done that.
S/he’s in the arms of Jesus.
They’ve gone to a better place.
You’ll get over this.
You have to stay strong for your mother.
You must be used to this, given what you do for a living.
God now has a new angel in heaven.
OMG, this reminds me of when…
Chin up, s/he’s not in pain anymore.
I’m sorry for your loss.
What happened, exactly? How did s/he pass on?

Now, while these may be true sayings, they are NOT helpful when someone you love has died. So I’ve taken to letting congregations know that the phrase “I’m sorry” is perfectly acceptable, with nothing else added.

Yes, I am a religious person, but it brings me no comfort to be told that my agnostic father is in the arms of Jesus. He wouldn’t like it there. Too many people try to appropriate someone else’s grief by telling their story. With time that may be an appropriate way to share how you’re coping, but not at the funeral home or the church. The person who is mourning is a combination of exhausted, hyperactive, frightened, nervous, and numb. They are not there to comfort you. You’re supposed to comfort them.

Something we seem to be so frightened about is silence between two people. More and more often, when I’m sitting with a family I will deliberately not speak for several minutes, and let the silence wash over the room. Sometimes it doesn’t happen and there’s chatter about weather, sports, etc. But sometimes it’s comforting to be still in the silence, especially of the parishioner is finally sleeping.

Everyone reacts to death and illness differently. There is no right or wrong way to do it. There is only your way. I stress with families that if they feel the need to be angry, they should express that, especially if they are angry with God. As much as we are prepared mentally for a person to die, when it actually happens we realised just how UNprepared we are. It hurts like hell. And it will for a long time.

It’s not helpful to tell someone to “get over” their loss. The death of a loved one is not something that you ever “get over”. But with time, love and grace, you will get through it. You will be affected for the rest of your life. There will be times when you burst into tears because of a song on the radio. Or collapse in a fit of giggles because of a remembered phrase of joke. And both are absolutely okay.

At some point in the future I will post about stupid euphemisms people use for death. But not today.

Today is about the gift of silence. About the gift of presence. I remembered when my dad died, what I needed was someone to hold me and say nothing. My husband is awesome with that. Not a single word is exchanged, but I can feel the strength of his arms around me, hear the beating of his heart, and know, for this moment, I am safe.

True ministry, I’m discovering, comes from the heart, not from the mouth. There are times when it is appropriate and necessary to speak. But more often, especially when in crisis; it is more important to be wholly present with the person, and to save the words for another time.

With permission, take their hand, give them a hug, but say nothing. The strength you will feel from that experience will be life changing.

Don’t be afraid of silence. Don’t be afraid of anger, tears or laughter. Don’t be afraid of numbness. All are appropriate emotions when mourning.

So the next time you are at the funeral home, or greeting someone in the community who has sustained a significant loss, resist the urge to say “So, how are you?” because that’s not a fair question. A better statement is “I’m sorry.” And offer a hug or handshake, and be still in the silence.

I truly believe that God appears to us, not in the eloquent homilies, or the well prepared eulogies, but rather that God appears to us in the stillness and silence of simply being present.

“Preach the gospel, use words if necessary” is a misquote attributed to Francis of Assisi. While somewhat contentious, I believe it means that to be fully present with a person, you don’t need to say anything. Great comfort can come from silence.

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